Friday, September 28, 2007


Right now, Otter Creek is going through her elder selection process. If you're interested, you can see more at

It's an interesting process, because especially for the Churches of Christ, we're choosing men who will not be paid, but will be the ones casting vision and guiding/shepherding the church. At Otter Creek, the elders candidates are suggested by the congregation, and then asked to consider being an elder. If they assent, they are brought before the congregation and there is a period of time where the congregation can question them or ask them about their perspectives on issues. If the congregation agrees, the candidates are ordained for 6 year terms, at which point they can decide if they want to be considered for reaffirmation. Is this a perfect system? No, it's not. Does it seem to much like an American democratic philosophy? Sure, but until we're willing to go out there and cast lots, it seems like a decent one.

The interesting thing about all of this is the qualifications for being an elder. The reason I bring this up is because a few weeks ago, I got an email from a friend suggesting a single man being nominated for eldership. My first reaction was, "Yeah, right. That has as much a chance of happening as I do of being an elder." But as I read this email, I got more and more curious. You see, the qualifications for elders are found primarily in Titus 1:
5The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
Also in I Timothy 3:
1Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5(If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap.
Like I said, when I first got the email, I scoffed a little because the Biblical witness seems pretty clear. But as with many things, I started to wonder 2 things. 1) Why would Paul (through God's inspiration) put down these qualifications? and 2) Even though those qualifications were very explicit for a 1st Century Euro-MidEastern culture, were they still applicable now?

A lively email discussion followed, where the reasoning behind this suggestion was shown that there are singles at OC that don't feel like their concerns are being addressed or focused on to the extent that couples and families and children are, which I can say from becoming dear friends with several of the singles over the last couple of years, that I can sympathize with. I think that speaks to a deeper issue of integration of demographics at Otter Creek, but that's another story. Where I ended up coming down, is that I think the elder qualifications are what they are. Where my personal inconsistency came in is that I said that I would strongly support a single Ministry Coordinator or what is Biblically known as a Deacon, even though that would seem to go against the qualifications that Scripture lays down, also in I Timothy 3:

8Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

11In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

12A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

Well, that's kind of a long way to get to what I was thinking about this morning.
  • What do you look for in an elder/shepherd? Tim Woodroof, our preaching minister, said a few Sundays ago that a congregation cannot progress past her elders. So do you look for someone who will help a congregation progress or maintain the status quo?
  • Do we look for people who are like us or different from us? Do we look for successful business leaders or do we look for men who might not have the "trappings of success" but have shown spiritual maturity?
  • What about their wives? I've long contended that when an elder is ordained, it's not just him but his wife that is also becoming a part of that. If I were ever chosen as an elder (waits for laughter to die down), I know that Sheryl would be as much a part of that I am.
  • Do you look for a certain age? I know one friend who once said that he would not nominate or vote for a man who had children in grade school because he should focus on his immediate family rather than the congregational family. How much does age play into our estimations of maturity and wisdom?
And as always, I'm not really looking for answers, but just throwing the questions out there and curious about the thoughts of my friends/readers.


Scott said...

Are women eligible for nomination?

Phil said...

I don't know if anyone has ever tried, but I would imagine it would be met with the same response as nominating a single man.

Jonathan said...

I wouldn't treat the "qualifications" for elders as rigid checklists, otherwise I would have to explain why the two passages you quoted aren't identical. Also, I have been taught that "one-woman man" probably communicates the meaning better than "husband of one wife". The fact that (if I'm not mistaken) the is only one word for man/husband and one word for woman/wife in the Greek causes ambiguity on more than one subject.

So, I think there is wisdom in having married with children as a typical characteristic for most elders and wouldn't argue with a church that makes it a requirement, I personally wouldn't treat it as an absolute.

Jennifer Thompson said...

I was a little bit uncomfortable with the discussion about nominating said Single Guy - not because I don't think he's a great guy, but because I was afraid it was more of a "let's make a statement" thing and I wasn't sure where it was going. Besides, Single Guy is a good 20-30 years younger than the rest of the elders, and my feeling is that elders are usually older for a reason. They've got tons of experience and maturity on anyone our age (and the point you brought up about grade-school kids, etc. is a good one). If we were having this discussion about a single man in his 50s or 60s - well, I'd want to really look into the Greek translation issues that Jonathan brought up. As of now I'm undecided. (Sorry.)

When this was brought up, I started thinking, "well, do we need a single elder in order for the interests of singles to be fully incorporated into the church?" And I don't think that's a good way to think about it. That just makes me think of Congress, where you have the tobacco states and the agricultural states and the industrial states and they're all fighting for their own interests. That's not how an eldership should work. I don't want a single elder, and a young families elder, and an empty nesters elder, because then it just feels like everyone's competing for time and notice and contributions. We're not a bunch of special interest groups that happen to sit in the same room once a week. We need elders who have good relationships with church members at every stage of life, who can interact with everyone and then, as a group, make decisions for the entire church.

Do I sometimes feel like the young families get way more attention than other subsets of the church do? Sure. But I know that that's at least partially because of a conscious decision on the leadership's part to concentrate on forming families and marriages. And partially just because it's a gigantic subset. To me, the solution to making myself and my demographic a part of the church is not to complain that I don't get enough attention. It's to get involved in other things and with other people outside my subset, and to really make what the singles group is doing both known to and beneficial to the rest of church. If we do that, and if we get to know the elders we already have, then I'm not at all bothered by the fact that they're married and I'm not.

Cory said...

This email friend of yours sounds smart.

I think since we have this very democratic system in place, we tend to expect other democratic ideals as well - such as representation. There are many life-situations which are not represented: youth group, singles, widow(er)s, college students. Maybe that's okay, maybe not.
If the leaders don't understand where we're coming from, maybe it's our responsibility to speak up and let them know what we're thinking.

One thing that we are not guaranteed from our Elder Qualifications is relate-ability. Paul mentions nothing about grief counselor training or conflict resolution classes. They're called to lead, not to relate. Maybe we have other people (acknowledged by a title/position or not) whose job it is to relate. The word shepherd is often used to refer to an elder and most shepherds really can't relate to sheep. They can lead them, but they can't really counsel them.
That's one reason Christianity is so appealing to me: our Shepherd became a Sheep and saw that we needed a Counselor as well. But that's a much longer post. I'm new at this blog posting thing and I'm not sure how long a post is supposed to be, so I'll stop now.

(Hmm, post is an anagram for stop)

Joshua said...

Good discussion, Phil. Our search is for tempered, Godly men who have already successfully shepherded others. Experience IS required for this job. Getting such experience is going to be VERY difficult for young and/or fatherless men. Young and/or fatherless men have likely not been given or created the such opportunity. I've seen that being a good elder is a HUGE emotional, physical and spiritual weight. Men who have never had to intimately carry the weight of others shouldn’t be initially tasked with it as an elder of a church.

There is NOTHING wrong with being single for life or never having children. I can remain single or married without children, though, and invest a large portion of my focus and energy on me. I COULD NEVER be a good spouse and father if I spent the majority of time focused on me. Show me a good spouse and father and I'll show you a man who has consistently managed his life SO THAT he can use it to serve and nurture others.

To be fair, a single person could equally manage his life in order to serve others (i.e. Jesus, disciples, Paul(?), etc.), but such a life isn't REQUIRED of singles or, to a lesser extent, people without children. Mother Theresa is an example of a single person who decided to marry the church and become a mother to orphans. She was not really “single”. She acted as a faithful spouse and mother to the same people throughout her life. It IS possible for anyone to meet the spiritual, character and experience qualifications of being an elder without wedding bands or conception. However, it’s so remarkable and arresting for a single person to accept such responsibility that they stand out. The Mother Theresa example is extreme, but the point remains true: shepherding experience is rare for a single or fatherless man.

I’ve come to believe that age, marriage and fatherhood give men the opportunity to serve as experienced, selfless shepherds. I guess you could call it undergrad, grad and post-graduate education for men. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to bypass some or all of that education, but you’ll be less qualified to be a professor/shepherd. If there were a single or fatherless man who qualified by non-traditional means I’d have no problem nominating him. As it stands, though, I can think of many men at OC who do have their doctorates in shepherding, without having to look for men who may qualify by other means. I’m thankful for the men AND women who continue to use their “doctorates” to serve us.

Brian said...

I was in Africa once, and while there, got a whole new perspective on the "husband of one wife" phrase. There, poligamy is common, so the church leaders say that deacons and elders must only have one wife, because the responsibility of having several wives means that there is no time for the added church responsibilities that come with the official post. Perhaps the biblical phrase has nothing to do with the common thought that the position holder must be married.

jim voorhies said...

My only comment on whether a single person should be considered is to remind you that Paul never married. By excluding people for various reasons (whether it's marital status or sex or any other characteristic), you may exclude someone chosen by God specifically for you.

Phil said...


Not necessarily to take the hardline Church of Christ stance, but I think that they would point out that Paul wasn't an elder in those churches. He was an evangelist, and so the qualifications don't apply to him.

And to point out the other side, it's never mentioned in Scripture one way or another if Paul was married. It would be unusual for a rabbi to be unmarried. So either he wasn't, or his wife wasn't mentioned.

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